Who got to speak, and who didn’t? That was the question among elected officials during Monday’s historic Israel rally in Washington. Given the length of some speeches, had everyone who sought inclusion been allowed to the podium, the rally might still be going.
With more than 100,000 in attendance and live coverage on C-Span, the rally was an ideal platform on the national stage — particularly for those representing Jewish or conservative Christian areas.
image2goeshere But with time limits in mind (the event was to end before 4 p.m.), rally organizers sought to limit the addresses to congressional leaders like House Republican leader Dick Armey and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt; Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (standing in for Majority Leader Tom Daschle); and Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, standing in for Minority Leader Trent Lott.
“This was a national rally, and we wanted representation from across the country,” said Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which coordinated the event. “And don’t forget, we had only five days to put this together.”
But not on the program, and reportedly frustrated about that, was New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, arguably the leading pro-Israel member of Congress. An observer told The Jewish Week that a “heated exchange” between Schumer and program organizers resulted in Schumer eventually spinning on his heel and leaving.
“He was fuming,” said the observer.
Schumer spokeswoman Jenni Engebretsen said the state’s senior senator “was told he could speak at the end of the rally, but he had to leave to get to another engagement.” She added that Schumer “understands there were a lot of demands on the organizers in setting up the rally and felt they did their best to balance it.”
New York’s junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, also attended the rally but did not speak.
“Since she has a regular public platform, she agreed it was important for other voices to be heard, particularly from those who traveled here for the rally,” said Clinton’s Washington spokeswoman, Karen Dunn.
Barbara Mikulski of Maryland spoke on behalf of women senators.
Rep. Major Owens of Brooklyn also wanted to speak but was not allowed. Some congressional sources were critical, saying that Owens would have been perfect: an African American who strongly supports Israel.
But New York wasn’t without representation. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki both were reportedly added late to the program. A source said Ronald Lauder, a former chairman of the Presidents Conference, lobbied the rally organizers to include Pataki, who is running for re-election.
A Republican activist who ran against Giuliani in 1989, Lauder is a major Pataki supporter. The cosmetics heir paid first lady Libby Pataki $80,000 last year as a marketing consultant.
A Lauder spokeswoman, Jeanine Kemm, said he had “nothing to do” with the speaker process other than introducing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hoenlein said Giuliani and Pataki spoke because of their strong association with the terrorist attack on New York. He said Pataki represented Republican governors while two Democrats, Mark Warner of Virginia and James McGreevey of New Jersey, were unable to attend.
Giuliani canceled a business meeting in New York and delayed another in Florida to attend the rally, said Bruce Teitelbaum, managing partner in the ex-mayor’s consulting firm. Although no longer in office Giuliani, who won the hearts of Israel supporters by insulting Yasir Arafat in 1996, was better received than many elected officials.
“We were pleased the mayor was invited to speak,” said Teitelbaum. “We had no part in composing the speaker’s list. But certainly Senators Schumer and Clinton have been superb on Israel and it’s great they were there to show their support.”
Adam Dickter is a staff writer. James D. Besser is the Washington correspondent.